By Mark Weyermuller -
I've been known to attend many political events the past couple of years. I got to add one more when I got to see President Obama while he was here in Chicago. Last Thursday, he flew in for a couple of big dollar fundraisers, then he stayed at his Hyde Park home for the first time in a year. In the spirit of true reporting, I went to all four sites of his visit.
Thursday started with President Obama leaving Washington D.C. to stop at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York to promote tourism and job creation. From there, he headed to O'Hare Airport where he helicoptered to a parking lot at Montrose Harbor. The temporary airfield was secured by approximately 100 CTA buses parked bumper to bumper. From there, he motorcaded the five miles to my location at 25 East Banks Street, just off of Lake Shore Drive at Astor Street. This is where I got my first glimpse of the President along with a selfie (for free).
I was unable to attend the event inside as I was not invited, nor did I have $35,000 to donate.
The first fundraiser was at the home of Michael Polsky, who owns an energy company with an emphasis on wind power. Of course, wind power has been touted by the President as a solution to so-called "global warming." Polsky owns a big mansion in the historic district formally owned by Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, who listed it for sale at $13.5 million. Dimon lowered the price to $9 million, with it selling for closer to $7 million in 2010. One watchdog group reported that this home ironically uses six times the energy of an average home.
I am very familiar with this neighborhood as I grew up around the corner on Ritchie Court in the 1960's. My parents bought a rooming house for $38,000 with $4000 down. Our house was built by Potter Palmer, as was the Polsky house. This area was mostly mansions cut up for apartments and sleeping rooms until it reverted back to its grander state in the 1980's.
Astor House, a high rise across the street from the Polsky mansion, was once home of Chicago Cub Joe Pepitone and another former Cub Dave Kingman living next door to me at 1310 North Ritchie in a new high rise. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner lived just about 400 feet west of the Polsky mansion on State and Banks back in 1970. Needless to say, it was an interesting place to grow up.
President Obama was here on the Gold Coast to fundraise for Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Durbin will face off against Republican Jim Oberweis in November for this coveted seat. The price for a ticket to the fundraiser was between $1,000 to $15,000, depending on if you had a picture taken with the President. The hosts served cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for about an hour.
From here, the President headed up to Lincoln Park to a home near Wrightwood and Clark for a dinner. This fundraiser was hosted by Fred Eychaner, chairman of Newsweb Corporation, for $35,000 a couple; no word if this included a free photo.
After a couple of hours, President Obama headed to his home on Greenwood in Hyde Park about 15 miles away.
No exact word on how much was raised for Senator Durbin during the president's trip, but some guess just shy of a million. One of my concerns was the amount of taxpayer money that was used for this less than 24 hour fundraising visit. I do support protecting the President, but in my estimates the cost was several million, perhaps $10 million for the day, to fundraise for the Democratic Party. The costs of Air Force One, along with four C130 military transport planes for support vehicles, helicopters, SUVs and limos, which are usually flown in are exhorbitant.
I'm told 600 police officers were detailed off their regular beats for this, some on overtime. City workers including the drivers of 100 CTA buses and snow plows to block streets, miles of crowd control railings, and his own support staff added to the cost. The cost is in the millions, all for the purpose of fundraising at taxpayer expense.
I've been told that the campaign will reimburse these costs, but it's hard to ascertain if this actually happens. My suggestion is doing the fundraiser in DC where the protection costs and transportation would be far less. One neighbor quipped to me that it was no big deal, as government always wastes money.
The exhilaration of Air Force One, Marine One, and the motorcade, is exciting, but my excitement is tempered by the thought of how much this one event cost the taxpayers like me. At least I got a free selfie with the President.